As cloud computing stretches its wings, functionality is beginning to catch up. At this September’s Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, the software giant announced a new feature that some have been anxiously awaiting for years. Starting later this year, Azure users will be able to preview Windows Virtual Desktop.
The announcement naturally ginned up excitement among developers and power users who hope to deploy Azure as a full-service cloud solution, held back previously by the fact that no true and internal virtual desktop experience existed previously. That changes now, bringing with it a variety of features that (if used the right way) could turn into significant business benefits.
The Core Features of Windows Virtual Desktop
In its announcement, Microsoft outlined a number of features designed to help businesses improve their cloud user experience. Let’s take a closer look at each of them and how they might apply to your current environment.
1) Multi-User Windows 10 Experience
Businesses on the service will be able to share computing resources in the cloud, working on the same operating system that most of their employees will already be used to. Building the virtual desktop on Windows 10 also means that Microsoft will make its store and a variety of third-party apps available for integration. Windows Virtual Desktop will leverage the enterprise version of its operating system, leveraging the platform’s most advanced security measures and user management systems.
2) Full Office 365 Integration
Chances are your business already uses Office 365 for data and content creation and management. Azure and Office 365 have previously integrated, but never included the seamless user experience any local desktop user will get. That changes with WVD, which offers an optimized version of Office 365 ProPlus for all business users. Microsoft has pledged to share more information about the benefits and nature of this integration in the coming months.
3) Windows 7 Virtualization Capabilities
While most businesses will want to start on Microsoft’s newest operating system, your operations may not be at that point. As with any major switch, some legacy apps that don’t transfer to the new OS will no longer work well or lose their integration and security. The good news is that according to the software developer, you don’t have to move to windows 10 for virtualization. Instead, you have the option to stay with Windows 7 and still enjoy extended security updates, allowing you to maximize one switch before having to focus on the next.
4) Natural Interplay With Azure
As a new feature on the larger Azure platform, it’s only natural that WVD plays well within the structure. Even as your teams work on and manage their virtual desktop, they’ll be able to leverage anything from computing and storage to rich diagnostics, advanced networking, connection brokering, and gateway. Instead of having to host, install, and manage all of these components separately in a localized environment, you can centralize them for to deploy and scale much more easily.
5) Customization in the Virtualization Experience
Most articles and experts will focus on the full virtualization experience that WVD naturally brings with it. It’s true that through this new service, you should be able to take your entire desktop infrastructure to the cloud. But even if you don’t want to take that step, and approach the process more strategically, you can customize your experience. Instead of virtualizing the entire desktop, you can select only specific apps you want to undertake the process with. Microsoft promises that virtual apps delivered to a localized Windows 10 endpoint will be integrated seamlessly into the overall experience.
The fullest version of the platform, as its name suggests, is the virtual desktop. The software giant has built this platform to expand after the fact; as we have seen from services like Office 365, integration will likely come fast and furious after the initial release. Already, Microsoft has announced partnership with brands like Citrix, CloudJumper, FSLogix, Lakeside Software, Liquidware, People Tech Group, and ThinPrint to build more integrated solution within the WVD experience.
Some of these features are hypothetical for now. The announcement fresh in our heads, we’ll have to wait and see how the actual platform reacts to businesses users across the spectrum. Still, the features outlined here are nothing short of promising. If they hold, they’ll provide the first virtual and truly comprehensive solution within the larger Microsoft and Azure ecosystem.
How Can the New Virtual Desktop Benefit Your Business?
Of course, product features matter little if they don’t actually translate to tangible benefits for your business. Sales people across industries have made a living with features, showcasing high-powered software that doesn’t actually improve the way you operate or optimize your processes.
Fortunately, that does not seem to be the case here. As TechCrunch noted in its initial analysis of the announcement,
There are plenty of third-party solutions for running a Windows desktop in the cloud, but until now, Microsoft itself seemed hesitant to offer the same kind of user experience. Today, however, the company announced Windows Virtual Desktop, a new Azure-based service that provides a full virtualized multi-user Windows 10 experience, together with Office 365 ProPlus, on Azure.
TechCrunch is especially optimistic about the capabilities to run the same virtualized desktop on multiple pieces of hardware, including the Surface. This type of mobile capability makes the software an ideal potential fit for those types of businesses that need cloud services in the first place: organizations with a distributed workforce, traveling employees, and more.
ZDNet, meanwhile, highlights the low additional cost of the service, making the switch easy from a budget perspective. The site explains a hypothetical scenario in which multiple users are logged into the same desktop at the same time, both increasing collaboration possibilities and decreasing the need for multiple localized OS maintenance needs.
Combine these two analyses with the features outlined above, and you begin to see a number of business benefits that WVD can provide, as long as it holds its promises:
- Potentially significant cost savings due to a lower need for local desktops, magnified by the low cost of switching for existing Azure users.
- Enhanced security, with company and sensitive data both housed and accessed in the cloud. All information is protected by the powerful Azure infrastructure, giving it an advantage even over other desktop virtualization solutions.
- Accessibility, both from multiple locations and multiple devices. It’s not difficult to imagine a situation in which a centralized desktop can benefit employees working together in multiple locations compared to multiple stationary alternatives.
- Easier management and maintenance. Updates will be installed dynamically, taking effect for the entire organization. Users can be managed centrally, as can databases and other platforms that would otherwise require individual IT involvement for each instance.
- Integration possibilities. This benefit should become more evident after launch, when Microsoft typically begins expanding its partnership base. Already, partnerships like Citrix and ThinPrint make this a promising feature.
Of course, all of these benefits are hypothetical for now. WVD is in the post-announcement, pre-launch stage that so many platforms both crave and cherish. Right now, the possibilities are endless. But only launch will tell just how easy it is for businesses to leverage these benefits for success.
That said, we’re confident. Microsoft has long been at the forefront of cloud computing with its Azure suite, and the fact that WVD will live on the Azure infrastructure is certainly cause for excitement. That integration especially should make the initial switch easy, and allow for quick transition to maximize functionality over time.
What Happens Next For Prospective WVD Users
For now, we’re in the information gathering stage. The initial announcement of the new product did not come with a firm release date. We do know that costs will be minimal, especially for existing Azure users. In that case, the only additions will be cost of the new storage needed and the actual virtual machines, both of which will live in your Azure subscription.
Enterprise and education customers will be the first to experience the new platform. Partners like Applied Innovation will be able to help their clients sign onto the service, allowing them easy access and immediate integration soon after launch. Of course, that group remains limited in the larger scheme.
Microsoft has also announced that a public preview of the new platform will be available beginning later this year. Interested users can sign up to be notified when that occurs, which increases their chances of a spot in the preview before the official launch. With that preview essentially acting as a public beta, we expect a full launch of Windows Virtual Desktop sometime next year.
As with any services, a major benefit of WVD being wrapped into Azure is the potential for cross-functionality. Businesses who already leverage the larger platform should be able to integrate this new offering relatively seamlessly. Of course, we’ll be monitoring the new service, and will provide more technical and relevant information as it becomes public. In the meantime, contact us to prepare your software and business operations for this new, central cloud feature within the Microsoft ecosystem.